Dude, you’re close. Real close.
If the Warriors repeat as NBA champions, if they repeat in defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers, your Cleveland Cavaliers, in these Finals that got underway Thursday, you will have surpassed the one-and-only Wilt Chamberlain as a top 10 player in league history with the most Finals defeats.
True, that’s not a category you necessarily want to lead. Surely you didn’t grow up in Akron, Ohio, dreaming of becoming a superstar and playing for the NBA championship — and losing it more times than any other superstar. It’s unlikely such an achievement would be inscribed on your Hall of Fame bust on the day when inevitable enshrinement arrives.
But, hey, passing Wilt is passing Wilt, a monumental accomplishment in any category. Who really cares if it could be regarded in some snobbish circles as dubious?
Besides, you’d be taking your place among all-time greats in other sports: Reggie Jackson (most strikeouts) and Cy Young (most losses) in baseball and Brett Favre (most interceptions) in football, to name a few.
And, although a loss to the Warriors in these Finals would give you three consecutive championship defeats, certainly a number that shouts to be acknowledged, you’d still be one shy of football Hall of Famers Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith of the Super Bowl runner-up Buffalo Bills of the 1990s.
Wilt won two titles — in 1967 with the 76ers and in 1972 with the Lakers, both generally regarded as among the best teams in league history.
And you’ve won two titles — in 2012 and ’13 with the Heat — when you, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh famously reigned supreme as the Big Three.
But Wilt, the most prolific record-breaker in hoops history, also lost four times in the Finals, including in 1964 while leading the then-San Francisco Warriors against the Boston Celtics and a guy named Bill Russell, who won 11 NBA championships, including eight in a row, and never lost in the Finals. You might want to keep Russell in mind for the sake of perspective in case you’re tempted to boast about this being your sixth consecutive appearance in the Finals.
And you, King James (probasketballreference.com says you also answer to the nicknames LBJ and Bron-Bron), like Chamberlain, also have lost four times in the Finals, spreading that particularly splendid misery evenly between Cleveland (2007, 2015) and Miami (2011, 2014).
So, you’re tied with the Big Dipper. And even though Wilt has been gone nearly 17 years, as always he casts a shadow so imposing, so Goliath-esque, it makes those in its sphere of influence feel no bigger than Muggsy Bogues.
This is your chance, LBJ, to escape from that shadow. This is your chance, Bron-Bron, to set yourself apart.
It’s rumored that elite athletes have egos bigger than royalty’s, but if you do lose in the Finals for a record-shattering fifth time, it’s fervently hoped that you don’t let it go to your head. Be humble about it. Be as humble as if you really did drive a Kia, like you do in those cleverly ironic, self-referential commercials designed to elbow doubters in the ribs.
Look, big guy, we know that Cleveland hasn’t won a major professional sports championship since the Browns shut out the Baltimore Colts for the 1964 NFL title. We can make an intelligent guess about how much it would mean for you, the beloved local hero who had been scorned for greedy betrayal and is now again adored, to bring a championship to a city so often mocked. But consider poor Oakland, a city long derided as having no there there, a city that faithfully waited 40 years between NBA championships, a city that even while on the cusp of a repeat title that would be the perfect ending to an historic 73-win regular season is nonetheless bracing itself for the Warriors’ imminent return to San Francisco. Pity poor Oakland. Be a kind-hearted king.
Look, LeBron, we know you’ve got an incredible sense of humor. How else to explain your surprising, refreshing, sardonic, against-jock-stereotype performance last summer as a demure, Downton Abbey-loving alternative-reality version of yourself in the ruthlessly raunchy comedy “Trainwreck”?
We know that you know this is all in good fun, this business about your passing Wilt Chamberlain as one of the greatest players in NBA history with the most Finals failures.
If that’s what happens, if the Warriors take you down in the Finals, again, we promise we won’t gloat. We won’t make you the butt of cruel or insensitive jokes.
G.S. “Dub” Nation
Robert Rubino can be reached at RobertoRubino@comcast.net.